Per quod is Latin for “whereby.” As a legal term, per quod usually refers to libel per quod, a defamation action that on its bare facts does not support a legal claim, but would become actionable once proof of special circumstances is shown. Use of per quod actions developed in early English common law. These actions were most often used in the context of defamation suits.
Defamation, which can be categorized as slander or libel, is a false statement that is damaging to someone’s reputation. Slander is when defamation occurs through the spoken word. Libel is generally defamation by the printed word. It can also occur in pictures, photographs or electronic postings. The statements can be negligent, through not taking the time to check the facts, or made with the intent to harm someone’s reputation.
The legal wrong of defamation requires that a false statement made about the injured party is harmful to his reputation. The statement must be made to someone other than the injured party, and in such a way that it is clear that he is the subject of the statement. There also are categories of per se defamation, which are statements the law considers defamatory by their very nature.
Statements considered to be defamation per se include falsely saying that someone has been indicted, convicted or punished for a criminal offense. Saying that the person has an infectious or loathsome disease also can count. Making false statements about a person that tend to damage his professional or business reputation, and statements imputing impotency or want of chastity are also considered defamation per se.
Libel per quod actions are used in situations where the statement is not per se defamation or would not be considered defamatory unless the surrounding circumstances were known. For example, an article appears in newspaper or online wrongly stating that a person works for Agency X and is one of its most valued employees. Agency X is under indictment as a front for a prostitution ring. Proof about the nature of Agency X is necessary to prove the statements were defamatory.
In the U.S., some states still recognize categories of both per se and per quod defamation. Some make no distinction. Individual states may take differing approaches to defamation law in general. In some jurisdictions, per quod is an issue of damages rather than an issue for stating the cause of action. Some commentators believe the numerous variations and changes in defamation law have begun to blur the distinction between per se and per quod defamation.